One of my greatest regrets is not seeing Whitney Houston live in concert. When she visited Melbourne back in 2010, I recall considering seeing her and then not going. Two years later, she passed away. It’s been ten years since the world lost Whitney Houston and yet her life, her music, and her legacy feels more relevant than ever.
Now there’s a Whitney Houston biopic written by Anthony McCarten and directed by Kasi Lemmons that tells the story of Houston’s life and is titled I Wanna Dance With Somebody. I had wondered how it would pan out, considering Whitney Houston had a very public life. But to my surprise, what I discovered was a very loving and respectful film that only benefits her legacy.
This film is from the same creative team that did the Queen and Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, so already I expected a lot of lip-syncing, as the music from the actual artist is used. When I saw Bohemian Rhapsody, I was annoyed by this, however, I understand the reasoning behind it now. Why make someone cover songs when you can just listen to the real music of the artist that the film is about?
My only gripe is that because these actors are lip synching, their mouths aren’t moving as would an actual singer. But if you’re not a dedicated live music fan, you may barely notice this. For me, I could not unsee it.
I’m not as familiar with Whitney Houston’s story as I am with Freddie Mercury’s, but I was aware of her challenges with addiction, the break down in her marriage, and even her struggles with singing again. Guiltily, the reason I didn’t see Whitney when she toured Australia was because I had heard she was incapable of singing the way she used to. After watching I Wanna Dance With Somebody, I feel like a real asshole for choosing not to see her live at the time, considering all the obstacles she had to tackle and face to even get where she was back then.
Naomi Ackie does a great job at portraying Whitney, and you really are taken on her journey that feels intimate, personal, busy, and yet so very lonely. While ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ is also the title of one of Houston’s greatest songs, its double meaning is even explained in the film when describing the song’s story. I loved this as the moment felt self-aware and so relevant to Whitney’s overall life.
The recreation of the scenes from Whitney’s music videos to her live performances looked so impressive from the staging of the scene throwing you back in time, to her hair and make-up, Naomi Ackie really is Whitney in this film. I also adored Ackie’s on-screen chemistry with both Stanley Tucci and Nafessa Williams as their characters Clive Davis, Whitney’s record producer, and Robyn Crawford, Whitney’s best friend.
But of course, what I enjoyed most is the music. You can tell the creative team behind the film really did their research and executed their best efforts to obtain the audio from Houston’s live performances displayed in the film and I was very moved by this. While the narrative could have clearly steered to a much darker path, I respect that it didn’t, and yet still provided consistent honestly of Whitney’s life.
Overall, I Wanna Dance With Somebody is a highly recommended and I strongly suggest all music fans to see it. Especially if you love your music biopics, even if you’re not a big fan of Whitney Houston. If you know her hit songs, this film is worth watching just to see the story of the person who sung them. I also feel very inspired to watch The Bodyguard and listen to her music again, and would be surprised if this film doesn’t inspire you to do the same.
‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ will be in cinemas from Boxing Day.